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New Polar Bear Habitat Unveiled at the Zoo

Kali, the polar bear, was introduced to the media, public officials, and campaign donors on Thursday morning, June 4, 2015, at the new McDonnell Polar Bear Point at the St. Louis Zoo. The new habitat will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Voters approved Tuesday a new sales tax to fund repairs at the St. Louis Zoo and turn a swath of land in north St. Louis County into a safari and wildlife adventure park, as well as a breeding facility.

The sales tax of one-eighth of 1 percent will add a penny to an $8 purchase in the county and is projected to raise more than $20 million a year . The zoo already gets $22 million from property taxes in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The tax will be paid by anyone who shops in St. Louis County, but it’s county residents who will get the perk of free admission to the adventure park the zoo plans to build in North County.

Plans for the additional dollars brought in include developing that 425-acre property, which the St. Louis Zoo Association recently bought for $7.1 million near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, to support conservation efforts. The land had long been owned by the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, and the money to buy it came from two anonymous donors.

The zoo has said it plans to set aside 175 acres for a safari and wildlife adventure park, which could include zip lines and overnight camping, and to use 250 acres for a breeding facility. Visitors who don’t live in St. Louis County will be required to pay admission — the zoo in Forest Park is free to all.

Zoo leaders have said the institution does not have enough room for its animals to breed, and without more breeding capacity, it might not have a polar bear in 15 years.

The new revenue also will be used to make infrastructure upgrades, including to sewers and the zoo railroad.

Jeffrey P. Bonner, zoo president and chief executive officer, on Tuesday thanked voters and said zoo leadership likely will take about 18 months to develop plans for the conservation and animal science center and for the safari park and outdoor family adventure area.

“With this new funding, we’re also able to immediately start on several much-needed infrastructure repairs and replacements at the Forest Park campus,” Bonner said in a statement.

The zoo had planned to place a similar question on the ballot for voters in the city of St. Louis, but it did not pursue it due to the city’s poor financial condition.

Organizers have said they plan to push later for a sales tax in the city, as well as in St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties.

Other St. Louis County measures

Voters also approved Proposition 1, a charter amendment that puts a $2,600-per-election campaign limit on contributions by an individual or entity to a committee promoting a candidate for a county-elected office.

Proposition 2, a measure to change the county charter to require a public vote before park land is sold or used for commercial purposes, also won.

Voters also said yes to Proposition B, which gives the County Council more power to spend and appropriate money without the county executive’s approval.

Also winning voter support was Proposition C, which requires the posting online of county budgets, and pension fund statements.

The county is required by its charter to ask voters every 10 years if they want a commission to review possible changes to the charter, a measure labeled as Proposition D on the Tuesday ballot — and voters said yes.

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